Building Peace is More Difficult Than Destroying It

Countries with higher levels of Positive Peace not only have a reduced number of grievances, they also have the ability to resolve emerging disagreements non-violently.

In the Global Peace Index 2013 Peru, Georgia and Côte d’Ivoire were ranked 122, 130 and 150 out of 163 countries. However, in the years since they have featured among countries with the five largest improvements in peace. After a history of protracted civil wars and ethnic violence, how did they turn around? What explains their improvements from such a low level of peace? The answer may be in their displayed levels of Positive Peace.

Positive Peace is the attitudes, institutions and structures that are associated with creating and sustaining peaceful societies. Countries with higher levels of Positive Peace not only have a reduced number of grievances that arise, they also have the ability to resolve emerging disagreements without the use of violence. Countries with higher levels of Positive Peace also have higher GDP growth and are more resilient to sudden shocks.

IEP’s Positive Peace framework has been developed empirically through examining the strongest statistical relationships of over 5000 datasets. This resulted in the eight Pillars of Peace. Examining changes in these eight pillars between 2005-14, showed Peru, Georgia and Côte d’Ivoire were consistently making progress in many of the eight Pillars of Positive Peace.

Country Case Studies


The ‘Rose Revolution’ of Georgia in 2003 compelled President Eduard Shevardnadze to resign. The name ‘Rose Revolution’ itself is indicative of existing levels of Positive Peace in Georgia – people marched in the streets with roses to peacefully oppose what was widely believed to be a rigged election. The new regime starting in January 2004 focused its attention on state-building, economy, and fighting corruption. As a result of this the country has improved in seven of the eight pillars of Positive Peace, and most strongly in the area of Sound Business Environment and Well-Functioning Government.


Peru struggled with a leftist insurgency from 1980 to 2000. Democratic institutions began to improve after President Alberto Fujimori was deposed in 2000. Peru was among one of the fastest growing economies in Latin America between 2002 and 2013 and has been able to significantly reduce its level of poverty. The percentage of the population below the poverty line of US$5.50 a day (2011 PPP) fell from 49.9% in 2004 to 26.1%in 2013. Peru has made significant improvements in six of the eight pillars of Positive Peace. Most significant improvements were made in Sound Business Environment, Good Relations with Neighbours, and Free Flow of Information.

Côte d’Ivoire

Côte d’Ivoire experienced five years of civil war from 2002 to 2007, but began building political stability after the 2010 election. In recovering from the civil war, the country faced the immediate challenge of building a civil society and state capacity with a relatively low GDP per capita of $1220 PPP in 2010. Côte d’Ivoire made significant progress in this direction due to effective coordination between United Nations Operations in Côte d’Ivoire and the government – particularly on national security sector reform and disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration of combatants. Good Relations with Neighbours and Free Flow of Information in Côte d‘Ivoire paved the way for larger improvements in peacefulness; however, all Pillars improved, underscoring the systemic nature of Positive Peace.

What changes in society before peace changes?

While this suggests that improvements in peace require strategic and systemic strengthening of Positive Peace, a different picture emerges when investigating large deteriorations. Large deteriorations require an erosion in only a few Pillars, as opposed to an entire system’s worth of deteriorations. In particular, examining changes in Positive Peace Pillars in Libya, Yemen and Syria, the three most significant deteriorations in peace since Arab uprisings starting in 2010, provides an interesting case study. These countries show that Pillars of economic nature such as Equitable Distribution of Resources, High Levels of Human Capital and Sound Business Environment were at relatively better levels in the pre-2010 period. Such a combination created an environment where individual aspirations were increasing. Ideally, this is a positive trend. However, there was a limited ability to exercise increased agency due to deteriorations in Low Levels of Corruption and Acceptance of the Rights of Others, which deteriorated most significantly post-2010, creating an environment where outside interference compounded the problem, leading to a near total collapse of the state.

To explore such claims, the 20 countries with the largest improvements have been compared to the 20 countries with the largest deteriorations in peace between 2013 and 2016 for the analysis. Countries that made largest improvements in peacefulness between 2013-2016 tended to improve in most domains of Positive Peace between 2007 to 2014. On the other hand, countries that experienced largest deteriorations also saw erosion in some selected domains of Positive Peace.  The common indicators for deteriorations are related to Low Levels of Corruption, Acceptance of the Rights of Others and Well-Functioning Government.

The chart below highlights the specific Positive Peace indicators that improved the most for the countries with the largest improvements in the GPI. This shows that 19 countries improved in business environment, 18 improved on the mobile phone subscription indicator, 14 improved on the Perceptions of Corruption, Government Effectiveness and Secondary School Enrolment Rates indicators and 13 countries improved on the GDP per Capita and Youth Development Index indicators. For improvements in peace common indicators relate to Sound Business Environment, High Levels of Human Capital and Free Flow of Information.

This suggests that improvements in peace are more closely associated with prior improvements in indicators of an economic nature. Whereas a deterioration in peace tends to follow an erosion of political indicators.. These results highlight the link between the attitudes, institutes and structures of a society and the subsequent peace within that society. Inclusive attitudes, institutions and structures lead to increased peacefulness. Conversely, weak attitudes, institutions and structures can cause instability.

However, these results should not be interpreted in a linear cause and effect mode. Peace is systemic and the causes are difficult to untangle. Additionally, pillars of peace associated with either improvements or deteriorations in peace have their own interdependencies. Only one thing can be safely concluded from the results; It is a lot harder to improve peace than to destroy it.

Zakaria Siddiqui

Research Fellow

Zakaria is a Research Fellow at the Institute for Economics and Peace. His research focuses on Positive Peace and ‘systems approach to Peace’. He has also published research articles in the area of applied economics and has contributed to development policy debates pertaining to nutrition, reproductive health, modern energy access and informal labour.